Dev Journal: The Anatomy of a Hero

Theocrat_Hi-ressculptIn this first journal about Leader and Hero classes we start out by discussing the creation of the leader and hero customizer and assets in Age of Wonders III. My name is Nils Ruisch and I’m a 3D character artist.

GirlBanner

I was tasked to co-design and create the hero assets for Age of Wonders 3. In the previous games of the series, the heroes and leaders have always been portrayed with the use of 2D images. Heroes like Yaka, Tempest and Artica all look stylized, characteristic and are easy to recognize. However, since the Age of Wonders series took the step from 2D to 3D it was time for the heroes to make this transition as well. It was my task to realize the 3D art part of this.

Why 3D?

We know there are many fans of the original 2D portraits, yet we decided to go for 3D. Let me explain why we made the decision to go for 3D:

  • Style Consistency: Stylistically the characters are more rooted in the same style of the rest of the game world. Although the heroes and leaders were cool, there was quite some deviation within the characters resulting from different artists working on them and some having 3D models (or even dev team members) as a base.
  • Customization: Characters can be now be designed by players, reflecting player race and class, their player colors, and personality of the character they want to (role) play.
  • Variation and Modularity: Once a set of components has been created a large amount of leader variations can be built along with attachable items, even mounts. Especially the library of premade leaders should be larger than before. (I think the campaign alone features 40 leader characters)
  • Reuse Throughout the game: The same 3D character model can be used to display a leader or hero in the diplomacy screens, on the game maps and as rendered as smaller interface icons. The major win here is that the hero can be posed, animated and lighted differently in each of these situations.
  • Animation; characters can animate in the in the interface, showing their personality or like or dislike of you during diplomatic interaction.
wrappedArmor_rogue_goblinFemale

Goblin wearing a sexy Rogue outfit.

Design Goals

My task was to recreate the personality of the original characters in 3D. This means we put an emphasis on custom sculpted heads filled with personality instead of relying on deformed shapes. Also we wanted to ensure the different races look distinct, with varying body proportions, tails, head types, etc. At all costs, we wanted to avoid re-skinned humans, as seen in some other games.

Another call we made early on was to make the classes and the player’s customization choices stand out, and not blur the lines by rendering equip-able clothes. Imagine designing a cool sorcerer, but equipping an armor set early on in the game. Suddenly you look like a warlord and your character becomes unrecognizable to you and your rivals. This is not something we would want. Also the scope of cool magical items is not limited because of creating 3D variants.

The Warlord, Theocrat, Sorcerer, Arch Druid, Dreadnought and Rogue classes have their unique choice of armor sets. These sets are then wrapped over the various racial bodies in the game and get colored according to main and secondary colors you choose. By choosing a class, race and gender the player will define the core visuals of his or her hero. Next to choosing between variations on the class armor, the looks of the hero can then be tweaked by adjusting their head and decorations (more on this later when we discuss the interface).

Anatomy of a hero

Head
The hero heads are made by creating base heads that hold the major forms for each race. Special care is given to place edge loops in such a way that the heads can easily be deformed. To texture the heads a series of 3 UV sets would be created. The first UV set is used to assign a unique texture for each gender and race. A few of these textures are made to create diverse variations. Each base head would then be manually altered in various ways to create head shapes with personality.

The second and third UV sets are used to draw eyebrows and additional details onto the skin. These textures are shared over all the races in game, allowing us to add large amount of variation on the heroes by adding all kinds of eyebrows, scars, war paint, tattoos and burn marks.

A selection of head sculpts

A selection of head sculpts

Bodies
As I mentioned above, it was key to present different body types for each hero. We began the process by up-rezzing the base racial unit figures. Note how the proportions of each race vary vastly in shape. We then added details to skin texture and event hands.

hands

Hand Variations

Different female body types from various races

Different female body types from various races

The Class Outfits

A variation of female class outfits.

A variation of female class outfits.

During the creation process of hero outfits the concept artists at Triumph Studios deliver an armor design. Using this design the armor is blocked out in 3D, sculpted and detailed in Zbrush. The armors are set up in a way that makes it possible to easily add armor variations. After creating a game resolution mesh, the armors are unwrapped and textured. The resulting asset is then skinned to the rig that drives our heroes. After skinning, the outfits are wrapped around the racial bodies along with their male/female variants.

Male and Female versions of a Dreadnought outfit

Male and Female versions of a Dreadnought outfit

Hair
One of the most difficult objects to visualize in 3D is hair. Because of the distinctive way hair reacts to light and the restrictions we had to work with in our engine we have had to use a lot of tricks to make the hair look as good as we can. Right now we use several meshes with different materials to both shade the hair correctly and still make the edges look ‘fluffy’. The fun thing about the hero customizer is that we can share hair along all the races with only little effort. Some of the most awesome combinations where discovered when we ported hair from one race onto the other.

After some hefty internal debate we also did decide on not allowing beards on elves, but we do allow facial hair on female dwarves! We’re not sure if it makes these ladies more awesome, cuter or both.

A bearded dwarven lady

A bearded dwarven lady

Additional assets

Each hero has a set of eyes that can be adjusted. A wide variety of variations, ranging from standard green eyes, to smoldering cinders to demon eyes, is available. Next to these each hero has an accessory slot. The player will be able to don his hero with crowns, jewelry, bandanas or a monocle.

Animation and poses

Leaders and heroes feature an animation set which can be chosen to match its personality, ranging from fierce and charming to enigmatic. Every hero is Age of Wonders 3 uses the same rig (skeletal setup, along with controls) to drive its animations. While this design choice did make it harder to derivate in proportions between races, it does allow us to make all the cool animation sets available to all races and classes. We can now present a nice variety of animation-sets the player can choose for his or her hero.
While it would make sense for an Orc Animist to act very fierce, the player can choose to play a more thoughtful Orc. This is reflected by the chosen pose animation. When you also set the scenery your hero is placed in, you can drastically alter the way your hero is perceived.

Here you see a variety of races as Dreadnought, with different poses and armor variations.

Here you see a variety of races as Dreadnought, with different poses and armor variations.

In a following Journal you’ll see how everything comes together in the customization interface!

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Home Forums Dev Journal: The Anatomy of a Hero

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This topic contains 43 replies, has 33 voices, and was last updated by  jxikzn 2 years, 1 month ago.

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  • #10816

    jimmy
    Member

    In this first journal about Leader and Hero classes we start out by discussing the creation of the leader and hero assets in Age of Wonders III. My na
    [See the full post at: Dev Journal: The Anatomy of a Hero]

    #10820

    TheSpeaker
    Member

    So good to get another meaty dev journal. Thanks for this 🙂

    Tomipapa, you guessed right. The “Clothes” section under character creation IS for different armour variants!

    #10821

    Nosferon
    Member

    I’m a fan of the old 2D art but have no objections against the step from 2D to 3D. Graphics here look beautiful. My concern is about the close-up portrait. Since all leaders/heroes will be low-poly objects, wouldn’t 3D close-up portraits look less detailed than a generated 2D painting?

    One small other thing is that I’m a bit worried that all these options for customization may turn leader creation too close to SIMS character creation…

    #10822

    mrXD89
    Member

    So amazing! I just love this dvarven lady!
    Orkish Dreadnought is great too. I see customizing hero will be better than in so many RPGs.

    #10823

    TheSpeaker
    Member

    I’m a fan of the old 2D art but have no objections against the step from 2D to 3D. Graphics here look beautiful. My concern is about the close-up portrait. Since all leaders/heroes will be low-poly objects, wouldn’t 3D close-up portraits look less detailed than a generated 2D painting?
    One small other thing is that I’m a bit worried that all these options for customization may turn leader creation too close to SIMS character creation…

    Oh, don’t worry, it’s still nothing like the Sims. Likely just a bit of customization to make it feel like the leader is really something unique to you, that you’ve brought into the game world.

    #10826

    Anonymous

    Anyone else worried the men will all be ugly? I find in most games they go to great lengths to make the women young and attractive, but the men old and ugly. Just look at Skyrim! Every male is either 8 or over 40 and homeless looking; while the women are fair-skinned and beautiful. I hope the appearance options are diverse so that everyone’s views of beauty are accounted for. Will make for more interesting characters.

    #10827

    Tomipapa
    Member

    Yeah, the dwarven lady is well made. My favourite is the goblin dreadnought, with that mad face:”i will blow up everything!(including myself)” His fater probably was a goblin bomber 😀

    #10829

    Motasa
    Member

    Great read. I love the freedom in customization, it really makes the game more of an RPG that way.

    #10830

    Red Key
    Member

    Things are looking good. 😀 In the past I was concerned about the hero portraits because Avulas from the Theocrat gameplay video seemed to have a very generic face and body, but that was probably mostly due to how early and alpha things were at that point. Thank you for putting in extra effort to make the races distinct instead of just reskinning humans.

    #10833

    Brother JO
    Member

    I think these 3d models look great, but I’m concerned about selecting leader/nation race. I’m sure devs saw the conversation about selecting leader who belongs to different race than starting race. I was also hoping to see if we can do that or not, but I didn’t see anything about that. I hope a developer can clarify this.

    One small other thing is that I’m a bit worried that all these options for customization may turn leader creation too close to SIMS character creation…

    Duuude, actually sims character creation is great (well, most hairs suck and there is limited choice unless you invested 400? $ into buying all expansions etc. so we use CC :P). I would be more than happy if we get something like sims creation 😀

    #10834

    Good show, but I’m a little disappointed that you can’t make the elves have any beard at all.

    Now, before people accuse me of backtracking my Tolkien absolutism, it turns out that Cirdan in fact has a little facial hair,

    “As they came to the gates Círdan the Shipwright came forth to greet them. Very tall he was, and his beard was long, and he was grey and old, save that his eyes were keen as stars; and he looked at them and bowed, and said: ‘All is now ready'”

    It turns out that only the oldest elves, in their third stage of life, could grow beards (probably only in middle earth, as Valinor did not allow physical aging in the same way) In some of the other papers.

    So there, word from god says elves can have beards.

    #10835

    I wouldn’t be opposed to elves with beards (and I’m a fairly ardent tolkienist). Even if AoW lore expressly forbids this it’s easy to impose the restriction in the campaign while still allowing for “freedom of expression” in scenarios and random maps.

    No big deal either way.

    Oh, and great update btw. 🙂

    #10837

    Flenoom
    Moderator

    You really did it! Bearded Lady! Pratchett would be pleased ))

    #10842

    vfxrob
    Member

    Looks Mad, Is it the same Armour model and or accessories applied to each race? Like the hair and beards? Because it looks the same amount of polys and do people think we can add extras?

    #10849

    Haku
    Member

    I haven’t seen anything on Dragoniens yet. Very excited to see.

    #10850

    Haku
    Member

    Also would like to thank you guys for making character customization have a load of detail and variety.
    (sorry for double post, didn’t realize dev journal was connected to the forums)

    #10853

    Vissavald
    Member

    “It’s just very expensive. And such a long time to make. And it is difficult. 2D now only for art-house.” (c)
    Eador’s developers answer the question why they made the game in 3D.

    #10854

    Nils
    Member

    Nosferon – The hero’s heads have been made with a much higher poly budget then the regular units. (the body type picture resembles standard units, not the heroes) We should be able to capture quiet some detail in the final portraits

    Lance Walters-Unrau – When creating characters it is so, so very tempting to make everyone look like Clint Eastwood. Wrinkles and weathered skin adds detail, which creates interesting characters. This is why so many characters tend to look weathered and old. We are aware of this and try to offer a choice between very different skins, for both males and females.

    chrysophylax páuperem – This subject is the cause of a heated internal debate here at Triumph Studios 🙂 Thanks for the quote though. Some folks here might be able to use that as ammunition during a next debate!

    Flenoom – As a Terry Pratchett fan myself, I’ve been lobbying to have bearded dwarven ladies for almost a year now. I prevailed in the end. /

    vfxrob – In most cases all armor sets are shared through all races. Unfortunately I can’t say anything regarding custom made models

    #10855

    Lennart Sas
    Keymaster

    I can assure you doing these heroes in 3D was way more work than the original 2D implementation. The pipeline is so much more complex: concept art, systems design, rigging, modeling, sculpting, texturing, animations, testing everything fits together, etc. Same applies to the 3D environment.

    But they are right that providing the same sort of user experience (like customization like features, animation and smooth zooming) in hi-res would be impossible to do in 2D.

    #10856

    chrysophylax páuperem – This subject is the cause of a heated internal debate here at Triumph Studios Thanks for the quote though. Some folks here might be able to use that as ammunition during a next debate!

    Glad to be of aid, if you ever need any Tolkien quotes, from the Lord of the Rings, Silmarilion, Histories of Middle Earth, or even The Letters of Tolkien, let me know (I suggest a signal that displays the “banner of Elendil”; that looks like this “There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it, and a high crown above it, . . . And the stars flamed in the sunlight, for they were wrought of gems … and the crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold.”

    As a side benefit, you guys can also have non white halflings. I remember a Slate controversy on this subject where no one pointed out that, in the books, all hobbits are non white to some degree. They just didn’t do that for the movies because 1). Americans think all British people are white, and 2). They didn’t want Frodo, a mostly Fallohide hobbit, to be whiter than Sam.

    #10859

    vota dc
    Member

    In fact Lotr elves doesn’t have beard because they are good. Cirdan has and he is very old and wise, but having a beard for a younger elf would be considered an act of arrogance. In Aow there are plenty of arrogant elves.

    #10860

    Looking good and impressed with the amount of work and talent going in to this, my only worry is the finished 3D look is sharper and non-cartoony like D3 for example in the final version. The 2D art in AoWII was cool as was the colour pallet used, but the customisation options in AoWIII, if with enough depth will easily win me over!

    #10861

    mrXD89
    Member

    Now, before people accuse me of backtracking my Tolkien absolutism, it turns out that Cirdan in fact has a little facial hair,

    “As they came to the gates Círdan the Shipwright came forth to greet them. Very tall he was, and his beard was long, and he was grey and old, save that his eyes were keen as stars; and he looked at them and bowed, and said: ‘All is now ready’”

    I was thinking about elves with beards from yesterday but I couldn’t find anyone. I was thinking about so many of elves like Glorfindel or Haldir but they hadn’t any facial hair. I can’t forgive me I forgot about that who recognized Gandalf as the most wise of Istaris. So thank you for recalling me that.

    #10862

    Murcelago
    Member

    Will it be possible to customize some AoW2 leader look-alike? It would be a pleasant and nostalgic to see Merlin, Yaka, Nimue(not necessarily naked), Artica and others in 3D.

    #10864

    In fact Lotr elves doesn’t have beard because they are good

    And Gandalf isn’t, or the father of the Dwarves Durin himself (of the Longbeards)? Rather, the elves beardless state represents their “youth” and worldly immortality. This is a good thing, at least at first, for them because it allows the Elves to be in their prime for millennia, learn new languages, etc. On the downside, it promotes stasis, “fading”, and occasionally impatience and scorn for the more passing peoples.

    Cirdan’s wisdom and age are both represented by his beard, and in some ways cause it, since he has allowed himself to age and change with middle earth, rather than long for the unrecoverable past.

    AOW Elves have the same biological immortality, and many of the same faults. Both elves are guilty of haughtiness towards humans and disobedience to an otherworldly power (Archons and the Valar respectively) in staying in their lands actually meant for humans. So, I would only allow beards for the “old” model of elves, and make it silver colored, or at least tinged.

    #10868

    LegioIX
    Member

    Thumbs up!

    #10879

    Warmark
    Member

    Looking good and impressed with the amount of work and talent going in to this, my only worry is the finished 3D look is sharper and non-cartoony like D3 for example in the final version. The 2D art in AoWII was cool as was the colour pallet used, but the customisation options in AoWIII, if with enough depth will easily win me over!

    My worry also as I still love the 2D art style of AoW:II, one of my all time favorite high-fantasy worlds to game in visually, both in the character art and world appearance.
    But many of the screenshots in the gallery look great and seem to keep a fair amount of the AoW worldly feel. And customization plus a better zoom feature will go a long way for me in the game.

    #10888

    meeber
    Member

    So far sounds great but I have a question. Will we be able to create new heros to add to the list of heros the game will ship with? This question also goes for the Wizards as well (I’m using AOW2 terminaology sorry.) I ask because I like to create my own maps with my own heros and such as I did in the previous AOW games.

    #10892

    Fizzbitch
    Member

    I love it all! The new lore history that’s added is great. These new and detailed characters (and I hope some old ones too!) are great. Love it in any and all ways. And the female dwarven beards, awesome. Great work with not making the body frames similar.

    There are a couple of things I’m wondering:
    1. Naval combat. Previously each race had the same naval units, one combat and one transport. Will that be elaborated? Say one specialised naval unit per race?
    2. The spheres of magic. There used to be six (not including Cosmos), but with the new classes, including classes like Dreadnought that use their mana not for magic, will those classes still be there? For instance for a sorcorer or archdruid? Or will they still be there for anyone to chose from?

    #10926

    vfxrob
    Member

    Thanks Nils! Its awesome.

    And Elves should have beards!

    A: Beards are just awesome, nuf said. They just look to feminine unless we can put eye patches, scars or war paint all over their faces!

    B: Also I’m pretty sure in Raymond E Feists books the elves had facial hair (its a big fantasy novel series (not as popular as Tolkien)) their was Murad and I think the Mad elf king

    C: In the Tales of Dunk and Eggs their is a Targarian brother with a massive white beard and we all know they are some crazy breed of elf!So we will need that option for when we make a custom map!

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